The basic problem with the “participation trophy” thing is that it is (gradually) degrading the concept of what constitutes “participation’.
Here’s a perfect example from my own up-bringing:
I never had the opportunity to attend a real summer-camp. I never really wanted to, either.
Instead, a few times (mostly to shut my parents up), I attended something that amounted to a crude parody of a “summer camp”, tailored toward the visually-impaired and blind.
The thing is: nobody had really thought out the following three issues:
- It is difficult (although by no means impossible) for severely visually-impaired/blind persons to engage in activities such as archery/hiking, etc.
- IN some cases, visual-impairment/blindness is exhibited by individuals with various co-morbidities (mental retardation, cerebral palsy, etc.)
- “Visually impaired” and “blind” are not monolithic categories. (IE: the specific nature — and severity — of any particular individual’s visual-impairment/blindness differ widely.
For example, many ‘blind” people retain the ability to perceive light, and are in fact quite light-sensitive:
This situation meant that a significant proportion of the “blind” children/teens attending found outdoor activities to be extremely unpleasant and/or excruciatingly painful.
Further, a significant proportion of the “campers” had various sorts of what is now euphemistically called “intellectual disability”. (In other words: mental retardation). Many of them were genuinely incapable of “participating” in the activities in any meaningful sense of the term, and ended up standing around on the sidelines, watching other campers actually do stuff.
A good example of this was a guy I’ll never forget:
As far as I can recall, he was:
- Essentially quadriplegic (due to cerebral palsy)
- Unable to be off the (tracheotomy-fed) ventilator for more than 30 minutes or so
- Borderline nonverbal
- Almost completely deaf/blind
- Incontinent (in regard to both urine and feces
Nevertheless, his parents had sent him to the camp, where he spent large amounts of each day wherever the counselors happened to have put his wheelchair.
I’m honestly unsure as to whether the poor guy was capable of “enjoying” sitting on the sidelines, or whether the experience of doing so simply amounted to rubbing salt in the wound.
Nevertheless, this guy was hauled around to (most of) what passed for “activities” at this “camp”. the “petting zoo” (where he couldn’t even pet the animals, and one of the bunnies bit him when the “counselor” tried to put it in his lap). The “archery” event (where they sat his wheelchair at the back of the “audience”, so that the sound of his ventilator wouldn’t drown out the beeping archery targets).
It was….sad. I’m not sure if he was even capable of understanding what was going on, but I really don’t think that the experience of watching other people do stuff which he was physically incapable of doing (and will probably never be capable of doing), was any sort of “fun” for him.
He really wasn’t “participating” in any genuine sense of the term.
To be honest, I’m pretty sure that that the primary motive for his “participation” was not to give him an “enjoyable summer-camp experience”, so much as to make everybody else “feel better” about how “noble” we were being, by dragging him along to events in which he couldn’t actually participate, and then PRETENDING that this was actually “inclusive”.